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Season to Taste: Lessons Learned Cooking with My Grandmother

My Grandmother taught me how to cook and I wish I had written down more of the “recipes.” But of course, she didn’t use recipes. It was a dash of this and a pinch of that. As I attempted to make her chili the other day, I just couldn’t place my finger on what was missing. What is not spicy enough? Did I forget to add a second onion?

I always considered myself one of her favorites. In fact, she told me I was. I cherished the time we spent in the kitchen or when she made me watch the 5 o’clock news with her every day, faithfully. And I wish I had her with me now when I know enough to take notes and write down what she was trying to teach me – when I know people aren’t around forever.

I saw her handwriting in the family recipe box a few months back. It was the first thing of hers I’d seen in years. A tangible output, not just a piece of jewelry or coat. I was making a red velvet cake, something that’s come to be a religious experience for me and suddenly I was in tears.

Cooking was always a family affair. Dad was the taste tester. Mom butting in on my grandmother and I’s time. Everyone around our island sharing the space. It was there I learned the importance of letting things marinate. Beans have to soak overnight. Season the meat but put it aside so the spices can seep in. “That has to cook down Gabby.” “Your peppers aren’t soft yet.” The imprecise precision actually takes. “It needs a little more nutmeg, but not too much.” “Add a pinch of cinnamon.” Keep your hand light, it’s all in the flick of the wrist. Cooking with my Grandmother taught me some of my first lessons about life.

Cooking with my Grandmother taught me some of my first lessons about life. Click To Tweet

Some spices don’t go with certain foods; some people don’t pair well with certain hearts too. Some flavors don’t taste right together even if you wish they would. So let go of your preconceived notions about how life is supposed to be. Taste buds change; the world will too. Muscle memory can fade away. Practice anything you care about often. Parallels and hidden meanings. You ever found clarity while standing over a pot of chili? Experienced the communion of cake leaving metal pan?

There’s an intimacy to a woman that’s sure and I learned that in the kitchen first. I know the timer goes off, but that doesn’t mean the cake is ready just yet. It’s still where I go when I’m unsure or need space to think through something without knowing I’m thinking about it. I’ve seen answers appear by the time a pie is done and baking a cake work better than therapy.

I’m interested in generational memory. What am I living and learning through because it wasn’t resolved a generation or two ago? What will I pass down to my children should I have any? What is innate in me that I can’t explain or understand? The kitchen will always be my safe place.

There’s an intimacy to a woman that’s sure and I learned that in the kitchen first. Click To Tweet

Mattie Mae believed in feeding everyone. If you were hungry and she had food, you could eat. She was a neighbor to all and a mother to many on Yellowstone Street. I wonder what she thought about when she was in her kitchen preparing food for some of her blood and some who weren’t – what lessons she may have learned.

I lost my grandmother three years ago now and still can’t think about it or her that often because it hurts too much. I worry if she’d be proud of me and about how to carry forth her legacy. So often I go to my kitchen and attempt to recreate something she would make, something we may have made together. And like the chili, I’m not sure if I get it right.

Ultimately, I know she’d want me to chart my course, make my own “recipes.” In fact, she’d probably remind me I never needed one in the first place. Because like her, I’ve always known how to add a dash of this and pinch of that. It’s not her chili or pie anymore – it’s mine.

Season to taste.

grandmother

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